Joshua Perkins is a Utah State University student with epilepsy. He had his first grand mal seizure at 16. His doctors have not been able discover the cause of his disorder.
“They started giving me medication when I was 16, trying different things," Perkins said.
But even after doctors find medications that work, Perkins still has seizures.
“(I) had a seizure driving back from psychology and crashed into the Aggie Parking Terrace ticket booth," he said.
Most seizures happen when nerve cells in the brain fire more rapidly and with less control than normal. Epilepsy varies from person to person, but is a brain disorder that causes repeated seizures of varying lengths and sizes.
Most epilepsy medications have negative side effects such as memory loss and bone thinning, which is what makes cannabis oil so appealing. Just like the compounds found in essential oils like lavender or tea tree, there’s a compound in cannabis that can reduce or even eliminate seizure activity without the negative side effects.
Charlotte’s Web is a cannabis strain developed for this purpose. It is receiving national attention due to its non-intoxicating, seizure-reducing qualities.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed House Bill 105 into law on March 20. Though the bill makes possession of Charlotte’s Web legal, it does not legalize the growth of hemp and a federal law banning the transportation of hemp across state lines still applies.
HB 105 is nicknamed Charlee’s Law, after the late Charlee Nelson of West Valley, a 6-year-old girl whose parents discovered hemp extract when searching for a remedy to their daughter’s daily seizures.
Charlee's Law is on a trial basis until 2016, when it will be revisited by the Legislature. The bill restricts use of cannabis oil to minors, and their parents must have a hemp access registration card signed by their neurologist and issued by the Utah Department of Health.
In the meantime, adults like Perkins who support the new law, say it is a step in the right direction.
“Though it’s unfortunate that I probably won’t be able to benefit from how great it’s going to become, but as an epileptic, I’m happy that a more natural, safer alternative is being looked at to treat epilepsy.”
Cannabis oil is engineered from the hemp plant.
-David Matthew Stewart is a broadcast journalism major at Utah State University. Audio and information from his story that ran on April 9 on the USU department of journalism and communication's TV news program, Aggie TV News, were used in this report.